Cultural Icons



Venue details
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Bethesda St
Find out more
  • Visiting information
  • Monday-Tuesday Closed
    Wednesday-Saturday 10am – 5pm
    Sunday 10am-4pm
Artists: Joanne Ayre, Christie Brown, Claire Curneen, Stephen Dixon, Ingrid Murphy, Matt Smith
Flatback Production Group: Svetlana Antolova, Kerry Aubrey, Anne Austin, Sandie Bebbington, Sue Blatherwick, Judith Bishop, Angela Boote, Trudie Crampton, Rebecca Davies, Sara Devari, Anna Francis, Dalit Fischman, Mark Harrison, Claire Heath, Kay Hickinbottom, Natalie Ilsley Kevin Lee Soulmaz, Mosari Helen Morgan Tara Noroozi, Les Papiernik Lilia Rostami, Lily Rostami Yousef Rostami, Stephen Snell, Asal Vahidi and Burslem China Painters.
Curator: Tessa Peters


Cultural Icons takes inspiration from the history and tradition of the Staffordshire flat-back, once produced by most of the potteries in the region. Such objects reflected the interests of ordinary people in Victorian England, their subjects including famous entertainers, politicians, royalty and religious themes. For this project, curator Tessa Peters assisted by artist Christie Brown invited figurative ceramicists to respond to the historic flat-back portrait figures in the extensive collections of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. The resulting artworks comment on aspects of mainstream culture, society and politics today.   

Stephen Dixon offers a satirical take on political events such as Brexit and the presidency of Trump, while Matt Smith’s series, Oceans Rise, Empires Fall, provides an allegorical vision of societal structures in a state of collapse. Claire Curneen’s timeless subjects – both religious and secular – feature mysterious pairings and propose enigmatic narratives. Ingrid Murphy’s She danced him into a flat spin series is the result of her direct hands-on engagement with a traditional flat-back scene within a virtual reality platform. Inspired by Staffordshire figures of Queen Victoria with her infant children, Joanne Ayre provides contemporary visions of motherhood including Meghan Markle and Shamima Begum, and Christie Brown’s flat-backs invite reflection on today’s celebrity culture exemplified by popular TV shows such as Love Island and Strictly Come Dancing. 

The artists were also commissioned to provide a related design for production as a limited edition by communities of makers in Stoke-on-Trent. This enabled workshop participants to develop new skills and gain an understanding of how the original flat-backs were made. The editions and one-off works are displayed alongside a selection of Victorian flatbacks from the museum’s collections and finely detailed drawings of historic flat-backs by John Hewitt that also encourage close study of the original figures. 


Please note Cultural Icons is open from 14th September until 17th November.